Colorado’s Shaffer Promises Online Education Legislation

Colorado's senate president has said that he will introduce legislation to "rein in" online schools after his request for an online education audit was rejected Tuesday on a party-line vote by the Legislative Audit Committee, writes Nancy Mitchell at Education News Colorado.

"I am very disappointed Republicans chose to make this into a partisan issue, instead of simply doing the right thing," said Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, in his statement after Tuesday's vote.

"Despite overwhelming evidence of widespread fraud and abuse by online schools, they blocked an audit that would have saved Colorado taxpayers millions of dollars," Shaffer said after the vote.

"I will bring forward legislation during the 2012 session to reign in these abuses and restore accountability to the system."

But Republicans claimed that the request was political. And despite proposing an alternative – an audit focused on all K-12 schools, rather than narrowly tailored to online programs – the Democrats were quick to reject it.

"Let's look at the big picture of this and truly audit something that will be useful instead of something that will be only used as a political wedge on one form of education," said Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.

"An attack on parental choice is what we're really looking at here," Renfroe said, "as opposed to trying to solve the problem of our failure of our education system at some levels."

Shaffer requested an emergency audit of full-time K-12 online schools in September, citing concerns about poor performance, high dropout rates and lack of oversight.

Members of the Legislative Audit Committee agreed on a 5-3 vote to authorize State Auditor Dianne Ray to study the feasibility of an audit and report back.

Meanwhile, Shaffer subsequent appeal in October cited an array of media reports highlighting concerns about online programs, including a three-part series by Education News Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network.

But it came to partisan stalemate. The four committee Republicans, however, were unsuccessful in convincing the four committee Democrats to expand the audit. And Democrats were not able to persuade Republicans to look at online schools only.

Shortly after the vote, Shaffer issued a news release saying he'll pursue the issue via legislation.

"While today's vote is disappointing, it's not entirely unexpected," he said. "Lobbyists representing online schools are extremely powerful in the legislature, and that's why these schools have a sweetheart deal with no accountability or oversight.

11 17, 2011
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